Keir Starmer: An Opposition of None

How difficult could it be to oppose this crooked, deceitful, untrustworthy bunch of negligent charlatans that we unfortunately have as our government in this Foul Year of Our Lord, 2021? Well, we’re afraid to say so far it seems to be beyond Keir Starmer’s capabilities.

Johnson and Starmer at PMQs, September 2020

You would be forgiven wondering how this is possible when a distinguished member of the British establishment, The Right Honourble Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC MP, is the Leader of The Opposition. He arrived as leader in April 2020, to much fanfare about his “forensic” approach to politics and his promise of party unity after Labour’s crushing defeat the preceding December. He looked good: a former lawyer, dressed smartly in a suit with a stylish grey quiff, promising to bring unity whilst respecting the Left. Popular discourse dictates that a politician must look the part for alas, policies alone are apparently not enough. So, for many people, him looking the part was a massive step forward, but has Starmer been caught in the trap of believing this, too?

The man. The suit. The hair.

When he announced his shadow cabinet after becoming leader, he included some left-wing ministers, the most prominent being Rebecca Long-Bailey who was named as Shadow Education Secretary. We wondered at the time if this was a token gesture to the Left to convince Socialists that he was one of them, making good on his promise of unity. We thought that she would be gone at the first reshuffle.

It turned out that she didn’t even make it that far, as the cracks between Starmer and Long-Bailey soon began to show when Long-Bailey openly and strongly supported teaching unions calling for protections for schools for when they re-opened after the first national lockdown (Guardian). She was proving herself to be a very capable Shadow Education Secretary but was sacked due to a zero tolerance to antisemitism policy. Starmer immediately and decisively dismissed her for sharing an article that contained claims that police in America learned the practice of kneeling on a person’s neck to detain them ‘From seminars with Israeli secret services’. Starmer said, ‘I didn’t do that [sack Long-Bailey] because she is antisemitic, I did it because she shared the article which has got, in my view, antisemitic conspiracy theories in it.’

Surely though, there should have been an official process for such matters in place? An accusation of antisemitism is extremely serious; Long-Bailey should have been suspended from the party whilst an investigation took place. Regardless of one’s personal opinions however, Long-Bailey shot herself in the foot and was deeply foolish to have shared that article, especially as Labour had been marred by accusations of antisemitism and was awaiting the findings of the EHRC Report.

It may just be coincidental, but Long-Bailey was a vocal union backer and as it turns out, Starmer seems to have no love for unions. He does not support them. Ever. In a move to make Labour appear more centrist, he must have thought that a break from the unions was necessary, as well as severing ties with the former leadership: Long-Bailey was a Corbyn ally which does not appear to have helped her cause. With these actions, it is little wonder that the Left started to feel unwelcome by the new leadership.

Starmer looking at Long-Bailey during the Labour Leadership Hustings, February 2020

Whilst Starmer sensibly supported calls for a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown in October 2020, when it was abundantly clear that schools were once again unsafe for children to attend in early January 2021 (partly due to the government not implementing that firebreak), Starmer did not call for them to close when he needed to. At the latest, the call should have come on Sunday 3rd January when Starmer gave an interview on Sky News calling for a new lockdown. However, he just said that he wasn’t going to ‘add to the chaos‘.

What? Not commenting on closures increased the chaos as no-one knew his position. The unions had been talking about the need to close schools for weeks, as had scientists. Importantly, many parents had already decided not to send their children back to school on Monday 4th January due to safety concerns. Likewise, others decided to send their children, because the Prime Minister had told them to, without being challenged. If Starmer had felt that schools were safe, he should have clearly said so. He sought to obscure his position so that he could officially back either position at a later date. At best, this non-committal stance seemed cowardly and at worst, it appeared manipulative.

Starmer finally made the call to close schools later on Monday 4th January, after Johnson had already closed them. For a while now, Johnson has called Starmer ‘Captain Hindsight’ and as much as it pains us to agree with the concussed Honey Monster we have as PM, he does appear to have a point.

Additionally, Starmer has developed a horrible habit of abstaining on key votes. In fact, is has been discussed that Starmer has an ‘abstention strategy’ (Guardian). Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, this kind of long game might have been more acceptable. However, Starmer has missed so many open goals against this government that it is difficult to not wonder what his motives might be.

Of course, sometimes abstentions are understandable under certain circumstances, for example, when you need to let the other party own the mess they have made. However, the Labour Party abstaining on the Tier System was baffling, because although the mess was indeed made by the government, the consequences had to be endured by those living under the Tier System for months. 

Most strikingly, Starmer abstained on the CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill – otherwise knows as the ‘spy cops bill’). The concern with this was that undercover agents (police and MI5) would be allowed to rape, torture and murder in the name of national security. Starmer defended his position by saying:

‘On the face of this bill, there is a clear requirement that says nothing can be authorised if it conflicts with or breaches the Human Rights Act. If you can’t authorise something that would breach the Human Rights Act, how on earth can you make the argument that you can break human rights under this bill? Under the Human Rights Act, torture is completely prohibited, murder is prohibited, rape is prohibited. So this argument that you could sign off torture, murder and rape is wrong.’ (The National)

This explanation does not go so far as to explain why Starmer abstained. If he could see no problem with the bill, then why did he not vote ‘Aye’? We think that he did not want to vote for it in fear of antagonising the unions, who provide a large source of funding to the Labour Party. Likewise, we think he was cautions about voting against it so as to not appear too much like the party was making a huge shift back to the centre. Additionally, there may have been an issue with wanting to differentiate himself from the former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who would have certainly voted ‘No’ (indeed, Corbyn was one of 34 Labour MPs who defied the whip).

The bill was eventually defeated by the House of Lords, who clearly saw something dangerous in it that Starmer did not.

Ultimately, what we are seeing is an opposition leader who does not oppose. He does not seem to fully grasp the gravity of the times we are living in – the era where we have the worst public health crisis in living memory with the most corrupt government imaginable at the helm, getting away with social murder. Starmer supports every move they make, or doesn’t challenge enough.

Just the other day, The Death Secretary was found by the Good Law Project to have acted unlawfully by not publishing Contract Award Notices within 30 days of the award of contracts. ‘The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020 … When Government eschews transparency, it evades accountability.’ What else will Hancock fail to declare if the thinks that there are no consequences to his actions? Also, you must wonder – as an eminent former prosecution lawyer – just what is Starmer’s view of the law? We just don’t believe that he would be this disengaged with Hancock’s actions. He should be shouting from the rooftops for Hancock to either be dismissed or resign. At the very least, he should be demanding that Hancock explains himself. But no, Starmer will not call for Hancock to resign because it’s ‘not what the public really want to see’ (Apple News). Just imagine if this had been Rebecca Long-Bailey failing to declare contracts. We feel sure Starmer would have acted decisively.

The Death Secretary pretending to be patriotic

Due to Hancock bunging public money to his mates instead of awarding contracts to reputable professionals with a proven track record in the medical field regarding procurement of viable equipment, people are dead. Starmer won’t even call him out on it. We can only begin to describe our horror at Starmer’s complicity. Every day, he behaves less like the Leader of The Opposition and more like a junior Tory minister, scared to say anything in case it damages his career. It comes to something when the footballer, Marcus Rashford, who has been tirelessly campaigning to feed hungry children during lockdowns and over school holidays, has questioned the government and held them accountable more times than Keir Starmer has. Both he and the NEU (National Education Union) actually feel more like The Opposition at the moment.

Despite Starmer’s nationalistic flag waving to entice more voters back to Labour, his popularity has stalled. In fact, a recent poll has shown that The Death Secretary himself is more popular than Starmer. Surely, this should be sending a loud message to the Labour leader that his abstentions, silence on key issues and perceived fence-sitting are not convincing people to return to Labour.

Starmer flanked by flags, February 2021

It is belittling how he seems to see people who traditionally voted Labour, but chose to vote Tory in 2019: that they are all about nationalism. This is incredibly reductive, as there are many reasons – some legitimate and others less so – as to why voters turned their back on Labour in the 2019 election. When will he get that it’s about more than waving a flag? Clearly, some people chose not to vote for Corbyn due to concerns over his perceived lack of patriotism, but we firmly believe the majority who did not vote for Labour gave their vote to others for mixed reasons, and things they were genuinely worried and concerned about: Brexit/immigration/loss of industries/loss of jobs/effects of austerity/stagnating wages/lowered living standards. Unless you find a way to address these issues in a tangible way that meets people’s expectations, waving flags will have a very limited effect at best.

So, far from looking good in his smart suit and trendy hairdo, he ostensibly lacks substance and looks wooden – especially when compared to Johnson who is a very animated and engaging speaker when in good form. He seems to click with members of the public (yes, this makes no sense to us either but we must face facts if we’re ever going to find a way out), whereas Starmer appears flat and completely out-of-step with the current nightmare situation we’re in, the public and many members of his party.

The position he wants to get himself into, and the long game we believe he is playing, is to make it to No.10. That is all. His game seems to have nothing to do with being The Opposition. This would also account for the lack of party identity that Labour is experiencing under his leadership, and the frankly bizarre flag waving thing. He wants to hang around in the wings waiting for Johnson to go, or an election to be called; his hope is that people won’t like Johnson anymore due to his handling of issues since 2020, and will vote for Starmer in protest. This is not an admirable, inspiring or even a viable option. Being the least worst is not good enough. Starmer should be eviscerating all of the horrendous decisions, actions and lies Johnson and his cabinet have taken and told; every single one, every single day. Opposing Boris Johnson in this current time should be child’s play, especially given Starmer’s imposing and highly successful legal career.

He has alienated people. A great many members have left because of his actions. This is not what unifying looks like to us. Perhaps one of the most irritating things is that he thinks it’s okay to lose members because, when push comes to shove, former members and the Left will ultimately vote for him to oust the Tory incumbents. This is a dangerous thing to be doing however, because if there was an election tomorrow, as things currently stand, we’re not sure that people would currently vote for him. We fear many may not vote, or would again choose to take their votes elsewhere.

~ L&A 22.2.21 ~

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